John Arnold: I’m a hospital regular, but the notion of Covid jab terrifies me

In his weekly column John Arnold recalls some very eventful trips to the hospital over the years
John Arnold: I’m a hospital regular, but the notion of Covid jab terrifies me

John Arnold wearing his eye patch as a child, which aimed to improve the vision in his right eye

I HADN’T a lazy eye when I was small, though a lot of the neighbours thought I had.

From about the age of five, I wore a patch over my ‘good’ eye, the left one. With only about 30% vision in the right eye, the medical thinking at the time was to cover the good eye and ‘make the bad one work’.

Apparently, ‘lazy eye’ syndrome was very common and in many cases forcing it to ‘work’ produced results. This didn’t happen in my case.

Every month or two, I was taken to the South Infirmary to meet Dr Ina O’Connor, a very famous and brilliant ophthalmic practitioner. I read the charts with all the letters from a distance. With the good eye, I’d read it right down to the tiniest line, maybe D M J P Y O whereas with the right eye I’d struggle to get beyond the second line.

Things rested so then for a year or two but after some x-rays and more tests, it was discovered that what was causing the eyesight problem was a ‘growth’ at the back of the eye.

Dr O’Connor recommended surgery because it was possible I could lose all sight in the eye. She couldn’t guarantee however that the operation would help the eyesight and I might still be blind in one completely. Mam was in a dilemma with ‘on the one hand’ and ‘on the other hand’ options and none could predict a positive outcome.

A date was set for the surgery anyway and I got ready — I remember getting new pyjamas and a new toothbrush. Mam took me over to St Bartholomew’s Well at the end of our farm before we set off for Cork. I bathed my eye with the water and Mam prayed to St Bartholomew and every other Saint she knew.

The operation was scheduled for next morning. Before it went ahead the surgeon or his junior did some final tests. 

They were stunned, the growth was gone and the surgery was cancelled. I always put it down to the Holy Well.

The sight in the eye never improved but thank God, half a century later it’s no worse either.

I think that was the first night I spent in hospital. I smashed a car off a pole years later — I think I was in the Bons that time. Then, 40 years ago — around this time of year, I’d say, maybe March — I met with another minor misfortune. Engaged to be married and with said nuptials approaching fast, a new suit had to be bought. We went to Cork of a Friday night and from what I can remember I think I bought the first suit I tried on — I wouldn’t be over choosey in that department.

Well satisfied with the purchase, we decided to go for a meal. Eastern cuisine was new to me but then a celebration was called for, sure tisn’t every night you’d buy a wedding suit! Not mad about foreign food, I opted for a mixed grill, a safe bet. I ate well keeping the lamb chop ’til last.

I’m not a great man for chewing the food — more of a ‘swallower’, which isn’t great. Anyway, as I ate away I felt something stuck halfway down to its final destination. I wasn’t choking but fairly distressed. A glass of water was tried but it didn’t go far — the food passage was blocked solid.

The staff came to my rescue and an attempt at the Heimlich manoeuvre was tried, but to no avail. As I said, I wasn’t choking but a bit panicky.

We paid for the meal, apologised for the disturbance and headed for the nearest A&E. We went to the Mercy, the Regional, and finally, in the early hours of the morning, to the Eye, Ear and Throat on the Western Road.

Third Hospital lucky, they say, and after an hour or so a throat specialist managed to pull up the inch long piece of bone hidden in the meat.

With a wedding and honeymoon booked, disaster was avoided and we came home tired but relieved. The doctor put the bone in a plastic bottle and handed it to me, I still have it!

A tractor accident then, shortly after the wedding, had me above in the Orthopaedic for a few weeks. A couple of small bones broken in the back — a narrow escape.

One of the downsides of talking so much is it can put pressure on the vocal chords and that’s what happened me. I was diagnosed with ‘dry throat syndrome ‘ or pharyngitis — a first cousin of laryngitis. A specialist explained to me that the mechanism for lubricating my throat and vocals was malfunctioning and the throat tended to dry out. As a result, I’m often ‘hawking’ the throat.

I was told that if I was a tractor, ‘twould be a simple problem to solve. They’d just put in a grease nipple and give it a shot from a grease-gun every few days!

’Tis 19 years since the real trouble started. One hip was giving me fierce trouble. When the surgeon looked at my x-rays and saw on my Medical Form that I was a farmer, he said ‘Have ye no loader on the tractor?’ ‘No Doctor,’ says I, ‘we never had one.’ ‘You’ve all the signs of it,’ he said, ‘from pulling and dragging and tearing’.

Back to the Orthopaedic again and the hip replacement operation went very well, but the next day I got fierce sick. 

What would normally, back then, be about a six day stay in hospital turned into nearly two weeks. 

I couldn’t look at food and ‘twas only when a few slices of Martin’s brown bread were brought in from home and toasted that I had mind to ate again.

One of the dangers of being in bed too long post-surgery would be clotting. To prevent this I used get a tiny injection into the stomach each day at about 3pm. I dreaded it and for an hour before the nurse was due, I’d be sweating and all tensed up. Now, the nurse were great and inflicted little pain on my stomach or me, but oh, the thought of it. 

That was in 2002 and since then I am in dread of my life of injections, nurses and doctors.

I know I’m just paranoid and I do understand it’s an irrational fear. Since then, I’ve got the second hip done and got three bouts of diverticulitis which necessitated hospitalisation each time. The medical and nursing care was exceptional but the anxiety over needles, injections and associated professionals remains.

As a farmer, giving injections to sick animals and administering preventative medication is part and parcel of being a custodian of the land. Unfortunately, my fear extends far beyond a hospital bed or A& E department and I can hardly bear to see anyone else doing what has to be done from time to time. I can’t even bear to see any television coverage dealing with medical issues so no Emergency Ward or Grey’s Anatomy for me. Then, lately, every night with all the talk about the vaccine coming, bare arms being injected are shown repeatedly on nearly every news programme.

Well, didn’t Joe Duffy ring me on The Liveline last Friday and he enquiring about my fear and paranoia concerning injections. I told him all about it — nor was I the only one who has the same trepidation. It turns out, according to the bould Joe anyway, that I am suffering from triphanaphobia! I thought he said fryingpanaphobia, which I know I haven’t cause I love a fry, especially this time of year after a morning’s work.

‘No,’ says Joe, ‘not frypan, triphanaphobia, you are tripanaphobic.’

Well, isn’t that a show after all these years, to be diagnosed in public on the airwaves in front of the nation? At least and at last I now know many more people have the same anxiety as myself.

I told Joe of when I went to give blood a few years back. I went in with my eyes closed and kept them closed ’til I was led out into the car having made my donation.

It will be the same when the vaccine comes around — the sooner the better, I might feel it but I certainly won’t see it. Stay safe.

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